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How Long Have Tattoos Been Around?

How Long Have Tattoos Been Around?


Let’s face it, pretty much everyone has at least one tattoo, or at the very least says something like, “I always thought about getting one but couldn’t decide where or what.” If you haven’t heard someone say that, you’re lying.


Many people, when discussing their tattoos, often refer to some kind of meaning behind it, symbolism, history, or even tradition. But when did those terms become complementary to tattoos?


The short answer is that people have been tattooing for thousands of years, and we don’t mean 2,000 or 3,000, we mean more than 12,000 years ago. Tattoos have represented skills, professions, economic statuses, religious affiliations, families, and so much more.


At one point, tattoos were even used to treat pain, isn’t that ironic? Tattoos also at varying times acted as a punishment, or served as marks or identifications people could use to identify you (sometimes, this wasn’t your best case scenario).


The earliest evidence of tattoos were thought to be found on women in Egypt dated back to 2000 B.C., however after the discovery of Ötzi, the European Tyrolean Iceman who was buried around 3250 B.C., we now know just how far back tattoos really go. The art of tattooing, though, is thought to have expanded as Egyptians expanded their empire.


Greeks, Romans, Polynesians, the Ainu people of Japan, and many other civilizations and small tribes worldwide embraced the art form and used tattoos for a variety of reasons, including communication, family crests, marks of maturity, and more.


Eventually it spread to China, then the Americas where in New York City during the mid-19th century, the first professional tattoo artist Martin Hildebrandt, set up shop. In 1891, the first electric rotary tattoo machine was invented.


Now, it is estimated that 3 in every 10 Americans have tattoos.


“So many people are getting tattoos, that we will have some really cool retirement houses.” Cristian Petru Panaite, Assistant Curator of Exhibitions at New-York Historical Society.

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